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Microsoft polishes Windows Phone 7

Multi-tasking, Twitter and Kinect integration

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MWC 2011 Steve Ballmer took the opportunity of his MWC keynote to tell people what Windows Phone 7 will be like this time next year, and remind them how great it already is.

Despite already being great, Windows Phone 7 will see some upgrades later this year - multitasking, of a sort, and lots of Sky Drive integration along with IE9 and Twitter joining Facebook in the Social Hub.

During the keynote Microsoft showed applications suspending and resuming happily, and a music application (Slacker) playing audio from the background, which is nearly multitasking. Task-switching will be managed with a press-and-hold on the back key, popping up a sliding panel of suspended applications. But far more impressive was the proof-of-concept demo showing how X-Box Kinect gaming could be integrated with the phone.

Despite being joined on stage by Nokia's CEO, Ballmer kept his presentation focused on reminding anyone who's forgotten just how great Windows Phone 7 is. Ballmer is starting to sound like a teenager who's just discovered a life-changing movie, convinced that if everyone could see what he can see they too would discover just how perfect the platform is, and immediately abandon any previous loyalty. Everyone who has a Windows Phone apparently loves it, and recommends it to all their family and friends, who've obviously missed Microsoft's massive advertising effort explaining the benefits of the platform.

The multi-tasking looked remarkably similar to that being offered by Apple's iOS, a combination of suspend and resume with limited background tasks for applications that really need it. Twitter integration into the Social Hub is interesting only in that it took Microsoft to announce it: Redmond doesn't allow third parties to integrate their applications into the hubs. Third parties can have an icon, but integration is reserved for Microsoft's own developers.

The X-Box Kinect integration was only demonstrated by video, though we're assured that it's genuine code. The video showed a chap saving goals, waving his arms and legs in the best Kinect tradition, but the balls heading towards him were being aimed by his female companion perched on the sofa with her Windows Phone handset. It's a nice idea, though how, and if, that translates into products is harder to understand.

But the strangest part of the presentation was the assertion, from Steve Ballmer, that Windows Phone 7 will be the most operator-friendly OS available. That contrasts rather with earlier statements that the platform was entirely focused on the needs of the end user.

Microsoft would no doubt argue that the two parties ultimately want the same thing, but in reality they have very different needs and Microsoft will have to decide to whom it most wants to pander. ®

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